In 2012 I hosted a book group on my blog discussing The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind. This post is the third in a series of reflections on each chapter. [This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.]
Many years ago there was a public service television ad featuring a young mom frantically trying to manage many things at once. On the screen, her baby is crying loudly, a pot is boiling over on the stove, and the phone is ringing on the wall (yes, it was that many years ago). Completely frazzled, the mother turns rapidly toward the sound of the baby wailing, and a voice says,
Take hold of yourself before you take hold of your child.
That ad has stayed with me through many years of mothering.
While Chapter 3 of The Whole-Brain Child, Building the Staircase of the Mind, is written primarily about our children, the last two pages are written to parents.
The foundation of the chapter is that the lower brain, which is responsible for basic functions of the body and for strong emotions, needs to be integrated with the upper brain which is responsible for higher-order and analytical thinking. It’s the upper brain that regulates our emotions and calms our reactions.
This may sound familiar, especially to those of us with children from “hard places.” When a child is in “fight or flight” mode, she is functioning in her lower brain and unable to process with her upper brain.
This is why Dr. Karyn Purvis taught that when our child is very upset, we use:
- few words
- gentle touch
- a soft tone of voice
- and when all else fails, we simply keep our child safe.
But what happens when we, the parents, are losing it and functioning in the downstairs brain?
The authors recommend three strategies:
1. Do no harm.
“Close your mouth to avoid saying something you’ll regret. Put your hands behind your back to avoid any kind of rough physical contact. When you’re in a downstairs moment, protect your child at all costs.” p.64
2. Remove yourself from the situation and collect yourself.
Take a break. Walk away. Try deep breathing, do some physical activity, call a friend; do what it takes to calm yourself. For me, this also includes prayer – lots of it, but in the most simple forms, “Jesus, help me.”
3. Repair. Quickly.
“Reconnect with your child as soon as you are calm and feeling more in control of yourself. Then deal with whatever emotional and relational harm has been done.” p.65
Most of us aren’t going to cross the line to abuse, but we may fling words at our children that cannot be retrieved, or be harsher than we should be.
We need to recognize when we are no longer thinking clearly and implement these three strategies immediately.
So that young mama in the television ad? Before she took another step toward her crying baby, she needed to stop, turn off the stove, step outside and take some deep breaths. She might have even rolled her head from one shoulder to the other to release tension.
She needed to remind herself that everything was going to be okay and that she was a good mama. She needed to tell herself that dinner wasn’t ruined just because it boiled over, and the phone call she missed didn’t really matter. They could call back.
She needed to reflect for a moment on the sweet feeling of her baby in her arms, and maybe even say out loud, “I’m a good mama and I love my sweet baby.” Then, when her heart was no longer racing, when her upstairs brain was once again in charge, she could step back in the house, walk calmly to her baby’s crib and take her little one in her arms.
Question: What do you do to calm yourself when your downstairs brain has taken over and you’re about to lose it?
Reflections on other chapters:
encourage one another,
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